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Difficult Work

Chris Panatier   Deflowered-Devoured   2010   oil on wood panel   14 x 11 inches

The Barbie Show at Rising Gallery

Every artwork on this page is copyright 2010 or before by the creating artists. No reproduction or approximation of these  works may be created in any medium for any commercial or nonprofit use without specific written permission from the individual artist.

Something subterfuged about these works makes them real while their frictions linger. Their single unifying principle is they were photographed in one week at eight different Dallas art spaces. Despite some of my descriptions, none of these difficult work are sub par. Like difficult people who become our friends, they linger in our minds, even when we'd rather they didn't.

Nothing about them is necessarily difficult to create, though each took time and effort and planning. The case I'm building here has more to do with my difficulty in seeing or understanding or fathoming why the artists did these objects and in the way they did. Or why I sense others would have difficulty accepting those components presented these ways.

When I watch art, I photograph what I like instantly, and the pieces that got under my skin. I all but ignored this first work well into the weekend after I thought I'd finished this story — and before it insisted I render it, too in words.

Quasi photographic Super Realism catches this photographer's eyes and engages mind like few others. That stare pulls us in. The quality of this and the painting hung over it — a similar piece whose odd addition were antlers — was startling, although I was not initially willing to accept either was difficult. I had them together here in one tall jpeg, complete with the little button numbers. Then gradually settled on this as the story's star witness.

Some work, like the next one, is difficult to look at or see. This was difficult to fathom why I was so drawn to it and took a week to realize. As I write, I am still digging its treasures. Odd, too, that two so different works portraying women [below] got my attention, while I only wanted to look away from most of the Barbies.

It doesn't help that her skin is rendered in battered reds, oranges, browns and bruised blacks and blues, while her dress is undimensional negative space with splattered orange brown rolled on and phoned in. But it strikingly frames and contrasts flesh and hair. The dynamic eyebrow placements might be comical in a less savage portrait.

I don't know what is this object wrapped around hair and head, and it bothers more than the antlers did. Outlined in white, it's from another dimension and may even bisect her head. I did not question her uneven eyes until I'd stared at them. But those newly-grown horns annoyed me from the instant I saw it, though it drew my interest in, and lends the battered subject a spiritual armor.

Like the bruises and bashes, it became a bother, and I find myself questioning this work's role in a show called Barbie (Turns out it isn't; that's just what the gallery-sitter told me. The official title is Vantage.) although the juxtaposition is probably enough.

More work from I Am Woman and The Barbie Show are below.

D R Kline -

B. R. Kline   Under a Spell   acrylic on canvas

Fictional at The Bath House Cultural Center

Theatrical productions from this year's Festival of Independent Theatre provided visual themes for work in this story's second show, Fictional. Much of the work was pretty, funny or derivative. A few were not. I am leaving out references to which plays these pieces stand on, happily pulling the rug out from under that pretension, although many titles varied little from their plays' titles.

I doubt seeing the plays will inform the work, but it's possible.

B. R. Kline's spell held me staring at it a long time before I saw a motel room somewhere with the usual dreadful paintings — at least they weren't black velvet bullfights — with a dark-haired nude and a Tiki man waiting through the gold of sunset for the brighter lights of night, that lemon meringue pie left for greater acts.

I agree with one of the people at the opening whom I asked for favorites, that there's not a color out of place there in that melange of shapes and tones. Not one of those hues dominates. They are, in their unique fashions, just right. Even if you haven't read the screenplay and don't know what's going on.

It doesn't matter.

 Victoria Lewelling - A Day Spent in Purgatory Makes Another Night in Paradise

Victoria Lewelling   A Day Spent in Purgatory
Makes Another Night in Paradise

Fictional at The Bath House Cultural Center

Who doesn't love a couple of drunks, blotto in pastels so airy and light they might float away if they weren't clinging for dear life to those bottles.

Kline's spell drew me in slower. Baffled at first, then talking with friends, I agreed the colors there, like the ones in the day in purgatory — an awfully short visit — I remember praying people out of there when I was a good little Catholic boy while the nuns were predicting millennia — were perfect.

Not one dominated the rest. Like the colors were the subject, the object and especially the verb. The reason for their existence. So much more interesting and important and engaging than the characters, either woman or either guy. Upended furniture, puddles and painterly gestures in a choral arrangement of harmonies and contrasts. Both of them, as alike as they are different.

Difficult in more than a few ways, easy in some important others.

Suzanne Lewis -

Suzanne Lewis   I Prayed my Little Head Off   found object assemblage

Fictional at The Bath House Cultural Center

A door, crisscrossing cat's cradle string, measured cross, headless toy praying and those damned alphabet blocks making of all that complexity something angry. I keep thinking about all the gay Catholics who want so desperately not to, but sill see their lives as mortal sin, caught in the trap and praying desperately for release.

I'm angry with the artist I first assumed was a guy, for corralling this gentle door with mean-spirited corners. Before I read that four-letter word I liked its simplicity and tones, then suddenly I didn't understand, did not want it thus. Failed to reconcile. Apparently I was not the only one.

A guy in the hall later asked if I remembered the children's blocks. I wish I could have forgot. "Homo," I told him, and we agreed its mean intent.

Ceiling Worms - Photograph Copyright 2010 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Amber Block   Fish Lanterns   wire, fabric and LED lights

Fictional at The Bath House Cultural Center

Spookily glowing worms suspended from the ceiling, one of few three-D works in this show, borrowed from four dimensions, either science fiction or internal medicine. I still have curiosities about these glowing worms and wonder whether they might be swimming through our bodies as we watch.

Scott Wright - Taller Than Yeserday

Scott Wright   Taller Than Yesterday   mixed media, assemblage, sculpture

Fictional at The Bath House Cultural Center

Not difficult, really. Small-scale realism. I automatically think of Jim and Huck.

The sense of space in Jim Lievely's Undercover Ranger Simone acrylic on canvas, despite its anatomical difficulties — I cannot believe that back is of a person, goes on and on forever. Kept wondering whether Rebecca Guy's Boy and Girl with Moonsfish was meant as a Marc Chagall or Henri Rousseau rip.

The sense that Julia McLain, with her She a Mused me so! acrylic, seems poised on the forward edge of a superb and strong personal style makes me proud somehow for dissing her earlier, less focused work. Saw the birds in my own, little Winter painting in Carroll Swenson-Roberts' Evening Sunflowers ink and pencil on board. Loved the bold orange flower and the flower army squiggled with a palette knife.

And pleased myself turning and returning to Ann Huey's I'm Not Myself, You See for a little visual giggle. Darrell Madis' The Boy, the Girl, the Moonfish oil on panel with its naked fisher-persons, giant hand-walking moonfish and delicious paint-scribbled dark, gray and blue-white clouds makes me wonder.

And why oh, why, was I drawn and drawn again to Rebecah Beauchamp's stylish yet heavily Romantic little girl running in the dark Daughter of Zion oil on canvas, and not surprised at all at Ray-Mel Cornelius' brilliant, simple Moonfish acrylic on canvas fantasy.

But those were easy, accessible, not difficult except the gooey ones, so they're not pictured here. This is about difficult in its various manifestations.


Kevin Obregon -

Kevin Obregon  Unhinged   2007-10   acrylic on canvas   36 x 60 inches

Sublime & Surreal at Ro2 Art

When I look at one painter and see another coming through, I wonder whose work I'm feeling. I like this better than any of the many Obregon styles I've seen since I visited his studio on a home tour long ago. Constantly changing, exploring, looking for that style that will finally beat the game.

But the sensation I've seen this style before reverberates. Not sure where or when. It may even veer tangentially toward the surreal mechanics of a Valton Tyler, which it in no way resembles visually. More likely it's art I've seen in a magazine, if at all. Hardly a certainty, more like a vague guess. A rumbling dark vision in the back of my mind.

Still, I like it, gave Kevin a thumbs up in the over-loud, too-bright acoustics in Ro2 Art's marble-lined echo chamber of a downtown gallery, where conversation was impossible when the music was going, and it went constantly.

Titty Cat art - Photograph Copyright 2010 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Mike Kury   Birdwoman (series)    2010   resin   9 x 11 x 3.5 inches

Sublime & Surreal at Ro2 Art

I also have a deep mistrust of multiples. I wonder how many more of them are out there, in a slightly differing color or configuration, and maybe I'd like one of those better. That show depended on multiples. Clones running around loose.

butt up - Photograph Copyright 2010 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Mike Kury    Recline    2010    plaster and resin    21 x 40 x 27

Sublime & Surreal at Ro2 Art

The condensation on the window was the best part — with its illegible scribbles. Of course the people in the window were posing, aware of the camera, although apparently not of the submissive, haunch raised, female shape.

Like they're subliminally unaware of some woman's butt in the air, breasts on the floor and her head neatly lopped off. As if her intelligence had been surgically removed, soul gone, but she's ready for sex.

I kept thinking of S&M, stylish-forty-years-ago photographer Helmet Newton who often posed nudes and semi-nudes like this, and wondered how many of these there were, too. Would you put this thing in the bedroom, the front room or Daddy's upstairs den?


Luke Harnden - Untitled

Luke Harnden   Untitled

Eye Tunes at Kettle Art

Eye Tunes featured musicians who make art, and of all the work there, this is the one of only two that stayed in my vision long enough to photograph it, and even I have difficulty liking it. I stared at it awhile and barely remembered any else there. Two guys in funny hats — polo players or up to something else entirely, looking away, not at all anxious to have us in their view, or them in ours. I think of the left one as a child.

His shoulder extended in paint is what grabbed me. A shape. A shoulder. A painted-in area of dulled golds, oranges, pinks and grays. Within it a white shape outlined in black, one long drip mortalized. And other colors with not much to do with shoulders or figures, extended from shadow-toned reality out into the shadowless unreality of flat abstraction. A fingerprint of a head in front of them, then splattered splotches into the crowd we can only imagine.

Not a great painting perhaps. More an intriguing notion of shape extended. From almost something into nothing. Like a photograph so blurred out of focus it's only ghostly there, if it ever was at all.


Bert Long - Stumped

Bert Long   Stumped   2010   acrylic on canvas with frame of
white pine, tree branch, metal sign   41 x 44 x 20 inches   NFS

Bert Long at HCG

Bert Long has been doing difficult work since I met him thirty years ago, when we were both struggling to publish then-new community art papers — him in Houston for Art Scene, me here. I was even Dallas Editor for his newsprint magazine just before it folded. Now he's an art star and dresses and acts like one, shining and aloof.

Then he was friendly and warm and wanting more. When I reminded him of our meeting many years ago while telling my name, he grabbed my arm and shook it exaggeratedly for nearly a half minute. I think he was shining me on. Probably thought I was shining him.

Writing about art is more difficult when one is fighting feelings a semi-famous artist has just put you down, overtly and in public. I generally stand back in anonymity, but I felt need to greet an old friend. I must have missed him.

Bert - Photograph Copyright 2010 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Bert Long As Big-time Art Guy from Out of Town

at HCG

His work seems lost in the decades between our histories. Fantastical with clunks of wood and obvious objects attached like nobody's ever done that before. Tre Roberts and I reviewed his work in 1987, and it hasn't changed since, except his prices and popularity have risen exponentially, and his work is represented in many major and minor museums. Hardly the Outsider anymore.


Cathey Miller - Rocco and Pinky - Photograph Copyright 2010 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Cathey Miller   Rocco and Pinky   30 x 40 inches

I Am Woman at Rising Gallery

I worried about a show called I Am Woman at Rising, which included a lot of difficult and more than a little amateurish work, but I saw Cathey Miller's and a couple other names and felt need to track down the new gallery, north on the first street west of Central at Knox.

I hoped to find difficult work there, and this series, though both glib and real, qualified. In the last few years, Miller's work has taken giant leaps toward accessibility, and it's bigger, too. She is, I suspect both an astute chronicler / illustrator and deeper than her work first appears.

At least two serious women photographers— the late Linda Finnell and Keli Connell — created long series of self-portraits in which they portrayed themselves either as males or of indeterminate sex. I always wonder if Miller's work is biographical. Some of it must be. I've met her, even included her work in Fierce, but I don't recognize her here — although that's probably she on the left.

Perhaps the difficulty here is that she bothers with the male identification, because other than that big, fake-looking mustache and perhaps the haughty attitude, there's visually little male about that woman, except by comparison, which of course is the point in a show called that.

Both shows at Rising pertain to women. The other was The Barbie Show, and until I recognized there were I.Ds on the I Am Woman and only numbered pins on the Barbies, the shows were difficult to distinguish. Both had remarkably good and utterly awful work.

Debbie Curtis - Photograph Copyright 2010 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Debbie Curtis   untitled   2010   acrylic on wallpaper on canvas   20 x 16 inches

The Barbie Show at Rising

This one's difficulty is the amateurish application of paint, even if that application is also sophisticated and near perfect for her visual statement. There's little confusion in the contradiction, except how cheap the paint and canvas looks at first. And her signature is a mess. Yet everything else is carefully plotted. The built-in self-contradictions grows my difficulty, my sly grin and appreciation.

Kathleen Wilke - Sleep Me a Dream - Photograph Copyright 2010 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Kathleen Wilke   Sleep Me a Dream   2007   30 x 30 inches

I Am Woman at Rising Gallery

I am slowly and grudgingly developing an appreciation for Kathleen Wilke's newer work. Now, as Wilke advances her oeuvre — I wanted to show you her rippling Beacon, that was visually simpler yet more complex and successful than these, but its bright surface held so many off-subject reflections, I could not.

Sleep Me a Dream is several years older Wilke and what pissed me off about her work before. Lovely, lilting in oversaturated colors, but even if she never saw Kenda North's older and longer series of very similar work, derivative.

Kathleen Wilke - Spindrift

Kathleen Wilke   Spindrift   photograph   24 x 24 inches

I Am Woman at Rising Gallery

But her newer, smaller multiple nudes, Abaft and Spindrift, employ double and triple exposures to amplify the dimensionality of her underwater figures. A bunch of naked bodies writhing under water — which in dreams always means sex, used to semi-automatically bring out the censors and nay-sayers. Now it's hardly a blip in the continuum. But an interesting study in what many may still find difficult.


Peter Ligon - The Texas Theatre - Photograph Copyright 2010 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Peter Ligon   The Texas Theater   ink on paper

Hot Buns!  Blazing Artists!  at the Texas Theatre

Much of the work at the Texas Theatre was more than a little difficult, so perhaps Ligon's superb drawing of the outside of the building is both a good introduction to where the show was and a steadying influence on the more troublesome works in Hot Buns! and Blazing Artists! at and benefiting the historic (Lee Harvey Oswald was captured there after he did or did not murder JFK) in Oak Cliff, very near the new, not-yet-opened Oak Cliff Cultural Center's storefront.

The show and rubber band fight brought together a lot of Dallas artists in one hot place. The AC, we assume, is one of the particulars needing renovation. We saw what we could see and photograph, but we didn't linger long in that sweatbox. Just long enough to photograph everything that took our fancies and several bona fide perverse art works.

Like this.

Pinky Diablo   Pig's Foot

Hot Buns!  Blazing Artists!   at the Texas Theatre

I have not been a fan of Pinky Diablo, although in his alternate — or perhaps real — life when he was known as Tom Sale, I have greatly admired his art that was often at the now all-but-defunct Gray Matters gallery. A lot of the stuff I've seen with Pinky's name on it has been under my understanding and way over the bleeding and receding edges.

This piece, however, I can understand and appreciate, even if Pinky made it with his own brushes and rubber stamps. I like an artist confident enough to stamp his signature bold in red ink. He may be a little shy to show the perhaps still-bleeding break end of the foot, but the scribbly shadow in the drawing and the informal framing is wonderful.

I remember Bob Wade, when he was teaching at Northwood Institute in the early 70s when that was a little wilder than it is now — if it still is — and in Dallas proper, presenting chunks of cow meat as art, not that it wasn't already being done by other artists a little more avant. Just not in Dallas yet.

So a picture of a pig's foot hardly seem all that difficult. More like amusing or downright funny, which is probably nearer Pinky's wont.

Pinky Diablo Skeleton - Photograph Copyright 2010 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Pinky Diablo   skeleton watercolor?

Hot Buns!  Blazing Artists!   at the Texas Theatre

Beyond the scruffy uh... framing are too grodty walls in the Texas Theater that Pinky can't claim, but his framing devices are both funny and minimal. I love the brief hint of blood about where the heart would be.

Adriana Martinez Mendoza - Ancia

Adriana Martinez Mendoza   Ancia

Hot Buns!  Blazing Artists!   at the Texas Theatre

Mendoza's splashed crash of shiny ceramic bowls is just the sort of display many might look at and say that their kids could do that. Many kids probably have, though not without breaking a few or scattering them not nearly as randomly close as this.

Taking the ordinary and making something extraordinary takes a special genius and lots of care, hopefully one that can appreciate the idiot things people might say when they see such an obvious effort turn out so well. Why didn't I think of that, indeed.

Corner of the Landing - Photograph Copyright 2010 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

The Corner of the Landing: artists Simeen Farhat and Michael Benson

Hot Buns!  Blazing Artists!   at the Texas Theatre

I'd probably classify the object on the left as still a little difficult. I wonder, for example, how it was hung? Simultaneously, I wonder how unlike it is from the clear plastic bags of blue rubber bands posted around the theatre for the Big Rubber Band Fight later?

Farhat is from a culture where realistic depiction is forbidden, hence the calligraphic sculpture — stringy rubbery-looking things hanging on the wall. Probably not many of those in attendance at the Texas Theatre that night would, but a lot of people probably still have issues with something like this just clinging to the stucco wall.

The painting of the Martin B-26, captioned with what might say, "The new 230 m.p.h. Martin Bomber, latest word in fighting planes" is much less difficult. despite its scribbled and bisected monochromatic blue background, smudged caption, informal presentation and strong sense of depth brought on by scribbling the sky soft, blue and dull, while the plane is high-contrast dark and sharp. Except for its odd balance with the wad of red wire in the corner of the landing and location in the matching, rounded corner, it is probably not difficult at all.

Anna has more pix from Hot Buns! Blazing Artists! on Facebook.



Lorraine Tady   Yellow/Black   3020   oil on canvas  24 x 20 inches

Small Abstract Painting   Curated by John Pomara and Barry Whistler   at Barry Whistler Gallery

I am not only having great difficulty figuring out what it is that is being portrayed in this luscious painting, I don't even care, pretty much blowing any argument that it's difficult, but it is, and it is not. There's nothing in it — from the bold-outlined yellow pieces at the bottom, up through the easel and other dark and sometimes green central shapes and out into the murky muddy almost plaid background's infinite depthy beyond — that's in any way a misstep. It may not be perfect, but it's awfully close. I'm a little sad it cost $2,400 but I never expect to purchase as difficult a painting as this.

John Pomara - Screen Play Study
John Pomara   Screen Play Study   2009   oil enamel on aluminum   23.25 x 16 inches
Image Courtesy Barry Whistler Gallery

Small Abstract Painting at Barry Whistler Gallery

I'm hardly the only to find Pomara's work difficult. The world seems divided into those who do and those who do not find his nearly digital paintings thus. His minimalist intellectualism almost always baffles. Me, at least.

If I look at one for a long time — weeks, months, maybe years, I can gain an indifferent appreciation. The bottom one on the page with Katya's story about his work has grown on me these last two years enough I can actively and honestly like it.

But spring a new one on me, and I am back to bewilderment. I do not pretend to know what is going on in the painting above nor in Pomara's mind. I know he thinks about art deeply and intellectually, and that I cannot follow his simplest explanation.


Billy Zinser - Photograph Copyright 2010 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Billy Zinser    title unkown

New Work at The Public Trust

We'd heard it was stifling earlier, but it was cool at The Public Trust when we finally arrived — but then most of the lights were off and the crowd had thinned from the sweaty mob we heard about at the Texas Theater. We hardly paid any attention to what I'd been calling Charlie Brown Meets The Wild Thing comix in back — although there may well be people who still do not accept comix as Fine Art art, then wandered into the small gallery in front and were wowed significantly.

Charley Brown Meets the Wild Thing

Jeremy Smith   Eat Him, Him and Him (detail)
mixed media on board   8.75 x 11.4 inches

New Work at The Public Trust

We were excited about these paint objects. Even in the cool relative darkness, their rich dense colors shone through. With the paint and the colors and how they went together and apart and smooth and striated, this yellow one was a mound of protruding color, probably several inches thick.

I'm a sucker for thick paint and shaped canvases, so this was easy.

Billy Zinser 2 - Photograph Copyright 2010 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Billy Zinser

New Work at The Public Trust

Not cutely geometric shapes like painters used to chop their canvases into, but bulged out with paint on informally prepared, rough-cut, not quite rectilinear canvases. All the stuff they told you not to do in art classes. Most artists still do it normal, easy.

I'm a fan of difficult.



All Stories and Photographs on this site are Copyright 2010 or before by publisher J R Compton.
All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in any medium without specific written permission.